Tuesday, September 21, 2010, 6:30 p.m.
By Mark Zuckerman
The Washington Nationals entered the season with a three-headed, revolving door in right field: Willie Harris, Michael Morse and Willy Taveras.
Roger Bernadina? He opened the year at Class AAA Syracuse, having failed to capitalize on a spring training opportunity to win a spot on the big-league roster.
Six months later, the 26-year-old leads the Nationals in playing time right field and ranks second only to Nyjer Morgan in playing time among all outfielders.
But does all that experience guarantee Bernadina a starting job in 2011? Not necessarily. The Nationals like much of what they've seen from the versatile outfielder during his first full season in the majors, but they haven't quite seen enough yet to declare him an everyday player.
"I think his numbers indicate that there's some parts of his game where you go: 'We're not going to find anybody else who would do more than him, in terms of baserunning and defense,'" manager Jim Riggleman said. "The offensive numbers are OK. I don't know that you're going to find anybody who's going to do more. Plus, there is the thought that there's more in there. Even though you may not be totally convinced, you still feel like he's getting better."
Bernadina's overall numbers (a .253 average, 10 homers, 44 RBI and a .704 OPS entering Tuesday night's game against the Astros) are pedestrian. But they're also the product of a second-half slide that has turned what was shaping up to be a solid season into something less enthralling.
Prior to the All-Star break, Bernadina hit .282 with a .345 on-base percentage and a .781 OPS. Since then, he's hitting only .226 with a .279 on-base percentage and a .633 OPS.
Is he worn down physically from his first full season at this level?
"The grind is mental," Riggleman said. "He's had some ups and downs. He's had times where he's really looked like he's ready to go to the next level. And then he'll get in a little funk where he's struggling."
For now, the Nationals appear to be looking at Bernadina as more of a platoon player, sharing the right field job with Morse, who has had more success against left-handed pitching. (Bernadina did, however, get a rare start against a lefty Tuesday night, batting seventh against Astros starter J.A. Happ.)
"I think we would lean toward thinking at this time that we can count on him to be a guy to go out and get 400 at-bats," Riggleman said. "But to get 550 or 600, you've got to play against lefties also. We're not sure about that yet."
Bernadina will continue to get shots to play through the season's conclusion, at which point the Nationals will have to decide how to proceed with a guy who may be running out of time to reach the next level.
"He's young in terms of experience, but he's 26 years old," Riggleman said. "So the clock is ticking. He's had to show us that he's a player this year. He has shown us that. Is there more in there? Certainly."